by Mark Havel, Pastor, Cross of Grace Church, New Palestine, Indiana
I often lament the cultural, racial, ethnic homogeneity of my congregation’s setting and of my congregation itself, as much as I love what we’re up to. I serve alongside the very “white” people of Cross of Grace Lutheran Church, in the cornfields of New Palestine, in Hancock County, Indiana. Though I have often resigned myself to the reality of our location’s limitations more often than is faithful, I’ve begun to have conversations about race and diversity, both within my congregation and in our community in ways that seem to be making a difference.
For instance, because of New Palestine’s bad reputation around issues of race, and because of some stories my own kids have brought home from school, I instigated conversations with our school Superintendent about how we might begin to dialogue about race and racism with teachers, staff and students in our corporation.
Encouraged by the Superintendent as a result, one of our elementary school principals recently joined me and Cross of Grace’s staff at an “Undoing Racism” workshop. That principal was moved enough by the experience, she has encouraged and recruited other teachers to attend the workshop, as well. I’ve since been asked by a different teacher to help write a grant proposal that will hopefully allow a dozen or more faculty and staff to participate in workshops and ongoing conversations around race in our neck of the woods. All of this intends to not only create safe, open, welcoming schools and neighborhoods for the diversity we see coming our way, but will also facilitate that diversity in ways I think would make God smile.
On top of that, Cross of Grace itself has begun the slow but meaningful work of partnering with a congregation in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, in Indianapolis. We have a new kind of race-relations dialogue workshop on the calendar for people in our own congregation, this fall. And I’ve dedicated a section in our church library to books by African-American authors and about race and racism in our culture.
I am grateful for my time with the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program for inspiring this sort of connection between me, my community and our schools in particular. At Wabash, I was privileged to have holy conversations with leaders from around our state who welcomed the influence and impact of pastors like me. I have since felt empowered to take advantage of that willingness in my own community and am encouraged by the fruit it bears, all and only by God’s good grace.